We’re sure that by now you’ve heard of the Smoke & Barrel (singular) versus Smoke & Barrels (plural) debacle! Both restaurants opened around the same time, both serving Southern-style BBQ. We don’t want to pit the restaurants against each other and, to be honest, the similarities end with their names and shared cuisines.
While the plural version is more of a grab-and-go takeaway concept, Smoke & Barrel (singular) is a spacious, sit-down eatery boasting a massive wood-fired smoker called The Beast that was imported from Missouri – the only one of its kind in Hong Kong! There’s certainly room for more than one smokehouse in Hong Kong, especially if the immense excitement surrounding these restaurants is anything to go by.
Smoke & Barrel is the second joint project from chef duo Chris Grare and Arron Rhodes of Kinship, while the kitchen is led by Southern native chef Christopher Tuthill, who was formerly the head chef at The American Club Hong Kong.
Chef Christopher Tuthill
The restaurant stands in the spot where The Flying Elk used to be and is considerably more spacious than we remember. We particularly enjoyed the signage when walking up the stairs to the restaurant. Always suckers for neon signs, the bright red lettering reads “Smoke Meat Everyday”, a fun twist on the Snoop Dogg jam and, quite honestly, a strong motto to live by.
The restaurant itself is very dark yet atmospheric, with the open kitchen, leather seats and wooden tables being exactly what we’d expect from a serious barbecue joint. The gold lighting adds a touch of sophistication, while the bottles of homemade BBQ sauces placed on the tables feel distinctly homey and comforting.
We’d heard some less than positive feedback about the service at Smoke & Barrel, and we did notice some inconsistencies. While certain staff members were very friendly and knowledgable, others just seemed a bit spacey and confused – nothing terrible, but perhaps something to be mindful of.
The restaurant prides itself on being Hong Kong’s first authentic American BBQ restaurant and smokehouse. However, we were quite surprised to find out that the menu embraces a fair bit of Asian fusion, something many American BBQ purists would certainly turn up their noses at. We’re in no way averse to fusion cuisine, but we found that while many of the dishes worked, some made less sense (we’ll get to that later).
The menu is broken up into five sections, from starters to desserts. If the choice is too difficult, you can let the restaurant feed you in a family-style menu ($488/person), but this does not include their hunky beef short rib.
The cocktail menu fits the theme and complements the smoky foods. We tried Fine & Dandy ($88), a pleasantly tart blend of whisky, raspberry and cherry. We’re told that the Texas Bloody Mary ($88) packs a real punch – made with their homemade BBQ sauce – and is a spicy must-order for fans of the cocktail.
The first of our starters, the grilled romaine salad ($98), was more exciting than we had expected. We loved the addition of salmon eggs, which elevated the slightly charred flavours of the grilled lettuce. We’re not sure about the addition of Parmesan cheese though. Although clearly an homage to a classic Caesar salad, this salad is anything but classic, and we feel as though it should embrace its individuality.
The watermelon salad ($98), which comes with smoked beets, fared less well. While refreshing, the salad felt uninspired. The menu states that the salad comes with dried shrimp, yet there were none to be found in our bowl.
Our favourite starter was definitely the steak tartare ($158). Made with brisket jerky and topped with a dollop of truffle mayo, this tartare was rich yet clean, with the brisket making the dish stand out against its competitors.
From the more refined starters, we moved on to the down-and-dirty mains. We were served a generous platter of smoked meats that included beef short rib ($598), all-American brisket (from $108), seasonal Smoke & Barrel sausages ($108), Carolina pulled pork (from $98) and cider-glazed baby-back ribs (from $208). The meaty mains are obviously the stars of the show here – this is what we came for.
The brisket was melt-in-the-mouth tender yet lacked seasoning. However, you can always top it with one of the eatery’s BBQ sauces (traditional, hot sauce inspired or Carolina style) for added spice and moisture. The pulled pork was spicier than was expected, and the sausages were juicy and had an enjoyable blend of herbs and spices – but neither was particularly memorable. The flavours of the meat platter started to blend together – until we tried the standout dishes of the baby-back ribs and beef short rib. Forget about using your hands – this meat falls right off the bone and positively explodes with smoky flavour. The beef short rib is by far the most expensive thing on the menu, but it is mind-blowingly delicious, with the meat slow-cooked to crisp and succulent perfection.
On the side, we thoroughly enjoyed the jalapeño cornbread ($68), which was delightfully fluffy with just the right amount of sweetness, the delicious, ultra-crisp Brussels sprouts & ponzu ($78) and the amazing mac & cheese ($88), which was the mac of our dreams, with its creamy yet sharp taste coming from the addition of British Cheddar. We also tried the loaded tater tots ($88), which were done in a very unexpected Japanese style, topped with bonito flakes. The tots themselves were pillowy mouthfuls of potato goodness, yet we found the bonito overpowering and once again felt like the combination was lost on us.
For dessert, the “almost” key lime pie ($88), which is made with shikuwasa (a type of Japanese lime), is a fun take on a summer favourite. We particularly enjoyed the mounds of marshmallow-like kaffir lime crème, but we did think that the citrus flavour could have been stronger.
It’s hard to go wrong with a childhood classic like soft serve ($78), but we would have loved a little more bourbon caramel sauce, which was lost under the swirls of ice cream and macadamia nuts. However, we did enjoy this subtle finish to quite a heavy meal.
In some ways, we found that Smoke & Barrel exceeded our expectations, but in other areas, we found that our expectations were not quite met. While we always appreciate creativity, the dishes that adopted an Asian twist were a bit hit-or-miss and, frankly, quite odd for a restaurant that prides itself on authenticity. The dishes that stuck to their Southern roots certainly were much stronger and best showcased the kitchen team’s skills. Overall, Smoke & Barrel is a fun, reasonably priced spot to spend an evening with some like-minded carnivorous friends.
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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